On top of the world

by | Feb 20, 2017

There’s been something that’s been niggling at me for a while now. It’s not something that many want to hear and it’s likely to be dismissed by many and not win me any friends.

Our sector has become incredibly elitist, favouring those at the top of the food chain to such an extent that much is failing to reach those further down.

Let’s start with the cost of things; training, conferences, other events. The Plug team can’t afford to go to the National Convention and we can’t afford any of the sponsorship packages. There are even advertising/blog/sponsorship of LinkedIn groups, mainly populated by exactly the people we want to help, but we can’t afford these either as the prices are so prohibitive. They are only available to the bigger organisations that often aren’t interested in working for smaller organisations or are far too costly in their pricing structures to be a feasible option.

But this isn’t just about cost or our lack of business opportunities. When we do go to an event, we sit through hours of high-end aspirational, tech-heavy solutions involving vast quantities of data. Only five organisations may have the skill, budget, technical resource and complex weight of data to do anything like what is being presented.

So I’ve scraped together enough to go to the event and now I’m being shown stuff that is totally irrelevant.

I’ve lost count of the conversations I’ve had over the years, told by others “…it was interesting, but obviously no use to us at all.”
As an event progresses the weight of disappointment and futility grow palpable, but it’s OK, because the organisers are too high on their own achievements to ask the right feedback questions or listen to the answers – ask not what you’ve done well, but what you haven’t done.

My team work predominantly for smaller organisations, but as I’ve said, this is not a blog where I lament the lack of business opportunities.

My issue is that for us to keep doing a good job we need to learn from our peer group. We get really excited when we come across something we haven’t thought of, a new way to think round a problem, an innovative approach to supporter care. We learn from each other just like our children do. How can we do this when the opportunities appropriate to us are so few? It stunts the growth of the sector and starves those who inhabit it of creative input and output.

I feel utterly stifled by the repetition of “It’s not for us!”, “It doesn’t apply to us!” and “We can’t do that!” conversations I have. Some of the best solutions we supply are simple, basic, grass-roots. We’ve tried to set up our own events where we can bring together a group of our peers to discuss the everyday, non-sexy issues that we are having to battle. Needless to say, we don’t get very far as our vision for an informal fact sharing, peer involvement day are not thought of as being of value. We’re confused by this; how can you say you want something simpler, more applicable to the work you are doing, yet discard it as being of no value?

With such limited budgets and resources available to us, coming together in relevant and appropriate forums, is a low (or zero) cost way of tapping into knowledge, skills and experience that we can’t afford to buy in. But it’s up to us to find, create or ask for opportunities that are relevant and appropriate. Surely this is a no brainer, which is why we need to be more vocal about what the majority of the 166,000 registered charities in the sector need, rather than continuing to promote the elitism that supports only the top 100, which have the budgets and resources to do anything.

It’s inevitable that over the coming months we’ll see even more changes to the sector landscape which will put even more pressure on how we operate, pushing up the cost of providing our services to the millions of people which rely on us. I want us to stand up for ourselves and create the networks and support we need to continue. If we don’t do this, then we have to question how much effort we really are prepared to go to for the people and causes we claim to champion.

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